Reflections After 30 Years of Biblical Counseling
Note: This post was originally posted at the Biblical Counseling Coalition under Lessons Learned as a Biblical Counselor.
I Am Learning That Biblical Counseling Is About Scripture and Soul
If there is one verse that captures the heartbeat of my biblical counseling ministry after three decades it is 1 Thessalonians 2:8. “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”
Right out Bible college and in seminary, I was 90% Scripture and 10% soul. I was predominantly focused on truth and not enough on love (speaking the truth in love—Ephesians 4:15).
I don’t think the answer is a “50% + 50% balance” of truth and love.
I’m learning that the biblical model is 100% truth and 100% love. Paul says it powerfully in Philippians 1:9. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”
As a biblical counselor, I want to make Paul’s prayer my prayer. I want my love for my spiritual friends to abound more and more as my biblical knowledge and depth of insight abounds more and more. I want to enter people’s lives deeply with Christ’s love and wisdom and engage people deeply with Christ’s grace and truth.
I Am Learning That Biblical Counseling Is About Suffering and Sin
A quote I display in my office captures well the next lesson I’m learning:
“Pastoral care is defective unless it can deal thoroughly with the evils we have suffered as well as with the sins we have committed.”
Again, right out of Bible college and in seminary, I was focused on “noutheteo” but limited in my focus on “parakaleo.” That is, I was predominantly about confronting heart sins, but not equally attuned to comforting people in their suffering.
Paul tells us eight times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 that God calls and equips us to comfort one another (parakleo). Similarly, he tells us in Romans 15:14 that God equips us to care-front one another (noutheteo). It is both/and, not either/or.
I needed to learn the lesson of John 9:1-3 that much suffering is not due to our own personal sin, but rather due to living in a fallen, sinful world. I needed to learn it so much that I ended up writing a book on it: God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting.
I Am Learning That Biblical Counseling Is About the Intersection of God’s Story and Our Story
Coming out of Bible college and seminary, I knew more about the pulpit ministry of the Word than the personal ministry of the Word. I was better prepared to preach God’s Word than I was to engage my brothers and sisters in Christ one-to-one.
Decades ago I used to rush in with God’s Word and expect people to listen to me before I had listened deeply to them. I’m learning that in biblical counseling I need “pivot feet”: one foot always standing in and entering into my friend’s earthly story, and one foot always standing in and traveling with my friend to God’s eternal story.
I’m coming to understand that biblical counseling is not preaching at an audience of one. Biblical counseling is not a monologue; it’s not even a dialogue; it’s a trialogues: the counselor and the counselee listening together to the Divine Counselor through the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
I Am Learning That Biblical Counseling Is About You and Me
I wasn’t quite sure how to word this header as a both/and. Here’s what I mean. Counseling is not one-size-fits-all. We need to care for, know, and relate to each unique counselee in a unique way.
My first pastoral counseling ministry was in an urban mega-church of over 3,000 people. We had a long history of “excellence” and “professionalism” in ministry. Before a counseling session, people completed a four-page Personal Information Form. Nothing wrong with that…in that setting.
My second pastoral ministry was in a small rural church. My first week of ministry a “Sr. Saint” came to see me. I whipped out my Personal Information Form. This dear saint took one look at it, looked at me with knowing, wise, aged eyes and said, “Pastor Kellemen, I’m not sure how they did things where you came from, but we don’t do things like that around here.”
I’m so glad for this seasoned saint.
I learned then and I’m continually learning that I don’t plop a “model” of counseling on people. I don’t pull “skills” or “methods” out of my counselor’s “toolbox.” Rather, I engage people relationally, soul-to-soul, as together we explore how God’s Word relates to their daily lives.
God fearfully and wonderfully hand-crafted and designed each of us—body, soul, cultural background, family background, life experiences, etc., etc., etc. I want my counseling to be one-another relating—my unique self with another unique image bearer.
I Am Learning That Biblical Counseling Is About Christ and the Body of Christ
To say that counseling is about you and me is not to say that we stop at the two of us. Frankly, I don’t want to point people to myself.
I want to point people to Christ. He is always there for them (Hebrews 4:14-16). He is perfectly there for them (Hebrews 2:14-16).
I also have learned over the past thirty years that biblical counseling is about the Body of Christ. A parishioner or counselee can’t become dependent upon me. I want them mutually dependent with God’s people on Christ. That’s why I always require counselees to attend at least morning worship and an Adult Bible Fellowship (Sunday School) and/or a small group.
I’m learning that for biblical counseling to have lasting impact beyond the brief time we spend together each week, those receiving counsel must be engaged in spiritual fellowship with the Body of Christ and practicing spiritual disciplines as they connect to Christ.
Join the Conversation
What lessons have you learned about biblical counseling and one-another ministry during your years of ministry?